TV9 Bharatvarsh Falsely Claims Tomato Virus Worse Than COVID-19

A TV news report broadcast by Hindi news channel, TV9 Bharatvarsh, about a new virus that has emerged in tomatoes in Maharashtra is causing havoc. The channel claimed that the virus was more dangerous than the novel coronavirus and was next in line to kill people.

However, this claim by the channel is false and misleading. There is no truth to the claim that the virus, named ‘Tiranga virus’ thus far, can be compared to coronavirus, can kill humans or even be transmitted to humans.

CLAIM

On 13 May, Hindi news channel TV9 Bharatvarsh aired a news report about a virus that has been reported by tomato farmers in Maharashtra. The report said that this virus, named ‘Tiranga virus’, was more dangerous than the prevailing coronavirus and that it was being said that this was a new version of coronavirus which was mixed in vegetables.

Below is a screenshot from the news package, which says: “The entry of a virus more dangerous than coronavirus?”

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The report, shared above by a Twitter user, dramatically goes on to say that while the world is yet to find a cure for the dangerous coronavirus, a new and more dangerous virus has come to “steal people’s lives” and can be found in people’s kitchens, in tomatoes.

The report then goes on to explain that the virus has attacked tomatoes and that they have spoilt the crop which was grown over months of hard work. According to the report, the virus changes the shape and colour of tomatoes it affects and that they develop pits and turn black from the inside.

“The fear is that if someone eats these tomatoes by mistake, it could prove more dangerous than coronavirus,” the report goes on to state. The news package ends by saying that samples have been sent to a lab to study “how this virus that can spread to people through tomatoes” and that the reports for the same are awaited.

Several people on social media picked up from the news report and wondered about precautions they could take to save themselves from getting infected. Some also questioned it.

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WHAT WE FOUND

The Quint spoke to renowned Indian virologist Dr Jacob T. John and a former head of the Indian Council for Medical Research's Centre for Advanced Research in Virology regarding this virus, who rubbished the claims made by TV9 Bharatvarsh.

"“Plant viruses do not infect humans. The receptors that the virus needs for entry into human cells is very different from plant viruses. Animal viruses, yes, but not plant viruses. There is absolutely no reason to fear.” " - Dr John said, speaking to The Quint

He further stressed that even if one were to consume the infected or diseased tomato, there would be no effect on humans whatsoever.

“All the time we eat a lot of vegetables. Many of them are infected with viruses. So you can guarantee that a tomato virus will not affect human beings. Even if you eat the infected tomatoes, no sickness will come,” he further added.

The former Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Prithviraj Chavan has also called out TV9 Bharatvarsh, saying that their “irresponsible reporting” must be punished.

We also found some agricultural news portals who called out the report as fake and misleading.

A website called Agri News Network also said that Dr BNS Murthy, Horticulture Commissioner, Department of Agriculture Cooperation and Farmers Welfare (DAC&FW), had taken note of the report and said that “the second part of the story that eating such fruits would cause much more complications than that of Corona virus is absurd. As of date no plant virus affecting plants has affected human beings as they lack the receptors for such an infection.”

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WHAT IS TIRANGA VIRUS?

We also looked up ‘Tiranga virus’ on Google and found a report by The Indian Express, dated 2 May, which said that tomato growers in Maharashtra had complained about an unidentified disease that was causing tomatoes to ripen early.

The report quotes a farmer in the state’s Satara district, Ajit Korade, who said this early ripening of the tomatoes was forcing farmers to junk the fruit and that spraying fungicides had had no effect. Korade also told The Indian Express that he would have to abandon the crop if the disease persisted and spread.

According to the report, an entomologist Ankush Chormale has asked for state agricultural universities and the Agriculture department to contain the disease, warning that it would wipe out the crop.

It can be seen that there is no mention of either coronavirus or the possibility of the disease spreading to humans in the report.

A follow-up report by The Indian Express on 14 May also did not mention any such possibility and said that samples of affected tomato plants had been sent to the Bengaluru-based Indian Institute of Horticulture Research to identify the virus that was affecting the crop. The report simply said that the virus was causing distress to farmers as they were losing their crop and that no known treatment had had any effect.

A report by The Hindu Business Line from 12 May also spoke about the virus but only about its effects on the tomato crop and said that samples had been sent for examination.

The report further said that “a scientist at the Mahatma Phule Krishi Vidyapeeth said an analysis of the tomato samples is underway but conclusions have not been reached.”

Interestingly, The Quint also found a report by TV9 Bharatvarsh from 15 May, in which the channel said that people had been connecting a report by them to coronavirus and were spreading rumours about the same. The channel claimed that they had said no such thing in their report and that no attention should be paid to such rumours.

This report further went on to blame such rumours on social media and said that their earlier report had only spoken about the damage to the tomato crop faced by tomato farmers, which was still true.

However, TV9 Bharatvarsh has now taken down the misleading report in which they claimed that this virus in tomatoes could kill humans and be more dangerous than coronavirus, which we have shown to be a false claim.

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